18

July

Three Questions Heading Into Packers Training Camp

Ha Ha Clinton-Dix

Clinton-Dix is vying for a starting spot at safety after being the Packers’ top draft pick in 2014

With the Green Bay Packers opening their 2014 training camp in less than a week, I took to Twitter to find out what our followers’ and readers’ top questions were about this year’s team.  Thank you to those who submitted theirs and I’ll certainly be doing this again throughout camp and the regular season.

1.  What does Micah Hyde bring to the table that Ha Ha Clinton-Dix doesn’t and vice versa?

There has already been a lot of discussion about the safety position in Green Bay this offseason.  For the first time in over 60 years, Packers safeties recorded zero interceptions in a full season in 2013.

Perhaps the fans in Green Bay have become spoiled after seeing the likes of Leroy Butler, Darren Sharper and Nick Collins grace the gridiron in green and gold.  Still, it’s hard to argue that the production at safety since Collins was forced to retire in 2011 has been subpar.

Heading into this season and before the draft, the team let incumbent starter M.D. Jennings depart in free agency and there was much talk that they would give Hyde a look at safety along side Morgan Burnett.  Sure enough, Hyde took most of the first team reps during OTA’s and mini camp.

The Packers drafted Clinton-Dix with their first pick in this year’s draft and more questions swirled about whether he would become the immediate starter or if he would have to compete for his role.

Clinton-Dix worked almost exclusively with the second team during the spring sessions but the Packers will give him every chance to earn a starting position throughout the preseason.  Not all first rounders start right away, but the Packers were addressing a need with the first rounder and likely can’t afford to have him sitting on the bench this season.

When Casey Hayward was injured last season, Hyde emerged as a serviceable fill-in at slot corner.  With as much nickel as the Packers tend to deploy, that will certainly be a position of great need and importance in 2014.  Hayward expects to be back, but we won’t know where the Packers stand at slot corner until camp gets underway.

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16

June

Don’t Forget About Safety Sean Richardson

Safety Sean Richardson. Photo credit: Royalbroil (Wikimedia Commons)

No one will argue that the safety position was a major deficiency for the Green Bay Packers during the 2013-14 season. They didn’t generate a single interception and they frequently looked lost in coverage. Now, as we enter the 2014-15 campaign, it’s poised to be a position of strength.

For starters, gone is M.D. Jennings, who is now competing for a roster spot in Chicago. Entering is first-round draft selection Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, who, according to many, fell as a gift to the Packers at the 21st spot.

Also garnering headlines is versatile defensive back Micah Hyde. Last year, he played mainly in the nickel substitution packages or covering the slot receiver. However, during the most recent OTAs, he took first-team reps at safety alongside Morgan Burnett.

With the combination of Clinton-Dix and Hyde competing for playing time next to Burnett, it appears the Packers are set at the starting safety tandem.

Third-year player Sean Richardson would beg to differ. His career almost never got started when he sustained a serious neck injury during his 2012 rookie campaign, but now that he’s fully healed, he’s poised to make some noise in the defensive secondary as he enters another season in defensive coordinator Dom Capers’ system.

It’s easy to forget about Richardson because he went undrafted in 2012 and then free missed extensive time during the most crucial first two years of a young player’s developmental window.

However, his measurables cannot be ignored. When compared to Clinton-Dix, he is bigger (6’2″ and 216 lbs. to 6’1″ and 208 lbs.), faster (4.52 secs to 4.58 secs in the 40-yard dash), stronger (22 reps to 11 reps at the bench press), more explosive (38.5″ to 33.0″ inches in the vertical jump and 128″ to 119″ in the broad jump), and more agile (7.01 secs to 7.16 secs) in the 3-cone drill).

These aren’t knocks against Clinton-Dix at all because he is considered a first-round talent and should make an immediate impact.

It simply means we can’t forget about Richardson because he is a rare combination of size, strength, and speed.

Richardson has elite measurables, but he simply needs time to develop his game. He went undrafted because scouts thought his coverage skills fell short of what his athleticism should dictate.

3

June

Cory’s Corner: Micah Hyde deserves more than a test drive

Micah Hyde nearly ended the 49ers' season last year on this play.

Micah Hyde nearly ended the 49ers’ season last year on this play.

It’s good to see that Packers coach Mike McCarthy wants to see what he has in Micah Hyde.

The 23-year-old, who is about to embark on his second season in the league, is currently slotted with the starting unit starting at safety alongside Morgan Burnett in Organized Team Activities.

I like Micah Hyde.

He’s a tough fifth rounder that has worked his way up the ladder and it’s great to see that the Packers are awarding his work ethic and talent — even if that means not starting this year’s first round pick Ha Ha Clinton-Dix.

Hyde can be a great example for a team that is desperate for a playmaking safety. Hyde showed last year that he isn’t afraid to creep up to the line of scrimmage and bottle up the run and he proved that while his coverage can get better, it still isn’t bad.

But this is why starting at safety this year is genius. It allows for Clinton-Dix to learn how to become a rookie and improve on his skills. And then after Tramon Williams becomes an unrestricted free agent after this season, Hyde can slide into Williams’ starting cornerback role and Clinton-Dix should be able to take over full-time at safety.

Hyde may have been overlooked at Iowa but McCarthy and Ted Thompson know what this guy can do. He nearly halted San Francisco’s Super Bowl run with the tip of his fingers last year.

Is Hyde the final answer to fix the defense? No way. The answer to that question is how B.J. Raji plays, if Julius Peppers has enough gas in the tank to make the entire season and if Dom Capers shaving the playbook by 15 percent will do the trick.

McCarthy may be just saying that the Packers are giving Hyde a test drive at safety right now.

But if he’s not, it would make a lot of sense.

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Cory Jennerjohn is from Wisconsin and has been in sports media for over 10 years. To contact Cory e-mail him at jeobs -at- yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter: Cory Jennerjohn

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1

June

Surviving Sunday: Packers News, Notes and Links for the Football Deprived

Surviving Sundays with no Packers Football

Surviving Sundays with no Packers football.

Despite being two of the most accomplished defensive players over the last 10 years, both Clay Matthews and Julius Peppers have something to prove this season for the Green Bay Packers.

It sounds like they’re looking forward to helping each other make their respective points.

Matthews needs to show that he can stay healthy and return the Packers defense back to its Super Bowl form of 2010. The Packers paid Matthews $66 million over 5 years last offseason, but he missed a chunk of 2014 and has battled nagging hamstring injuries his entire career.

Peppers wants to show that he’s not washed up and can be a difference maker on a defense that has come up short in the postseason the last three seasons.

If both players are going to make statements and get the Packers defense back to where it needs to be, they’ll need to sack, hit, chase, harass and make life miserable for the other team’s quarterback.

Matthews and Peppers have done plenty of that in their careers, but they’re finally going to have something neither one has had much of in the past: Help from the other side. And that help will come from each other.

According to Ourlads.com’s opening day NFL depth charts archive, here are the players who have lined up on the opposite end of the line from Peppers and at the opposite linebacker from Matthews to start the season since 2010 (and the number of sacks each sidekick finished with):

Peppers

2009   Tyler Brayton (5 sacks)
2010   Mark Anderson (3.5 sacks)
2011   Israel Idonije (5 sacks)
2012   Israel Idonije (7.5 sacks)
2013   Corey Wootton (3.5 sacks)

TOTAL   Four different players in five seasons, 24.5 sacks.
*Peppers totaled 48.5 sacks from 2009-13.

Matthews

2009   Aaron Kampman (3.5 sacks)
2010   Brad Jones (0 sacks)
2011   Erik Walden (3 sacks)
2012   Nick Perry (2 sacks)
2013   Nick Perry (4 sacks)

TOTAL   Four different players in five seasons, 12.5 sacks.
*Matthews totaled 50 sacks from 2009-13.

Obviously, as each season progressed, the person lining up opposite of Matthews and Peppers changed due to injury or lineup adjustments, but you get my point: Neither player has had a feared pass-rushing partner from the other side of the line in a long, long time, if ever.

7

May

A 2013 NFL Draft Retrospective: What Were We Thinking?

David Bakhtiari, OT Colorado

David Bakhtiari, OT Colorado

The NFL draft is thankfully just a day away, and while I could steal Jersey Al’s thunder by posting yet another mock draft, I thought I would instead do the exact opposite and look at the Packer’s 2013 draft class and more specifically what was being said about them around this time last year.  Were the scouting reports any good and how did these players perform when moving to the NFL?  Did they show different skills in the NFL or underperform on a new team?  The following are the scouting reports from CBSSports.com immediately following the 2013 NFL draft for each player that the Packers drafted.  Certain drafted players have been omitted from the list including JC Tretter, Kevin Dorsey, Nate Palmer, Sam Barrington and Charles Johnson mostly because they were either injured for the majority of the season or didn’t really play enough snaps to really say much.

Round 1.26: Datone Jones

  • Pros: Well-built athlete with long arms and good strength, throughout. Flashes an explosive initial burst off the snap to penetrate gaps. Uses his hands well at the snap to rip free from blocks, showing a variety of pass rush techniques (swim, rip, club), as well as enough power to simply bull over offensive linemen into the backfield.Keeps his head up and locates the football quickly, showing good awareness and effort in pursuit. Has the upper-body strength to lock-out opponents and seal the edge. Stout enough to slide inside to defensive tackle, especially on obvious pass rush downs. Enjoyed a breakout senior campaign and may be just scratching the surface of his potential.Cons: A classic ‘tweener who until his senior season hadn’t ever lived up to expectations. Lacks the sustained speed and flexibility to turn the corner as a traditional 4-3 defensive end. Lacks the bulk to handle full-time duties as a traditional defensive tackle. Has a tendency to stand up as he comes off the ball, losing out on the leverage battle. Uses his hands well initially but tires quickly and struggles to disengage once his opponent has locked on.
30

March

Surviving Sunday: Packers News, Notes and Links for the Football Deprived

Surviving Sundays with no Packers Football

Surviving Sundays with no Packers football.

At this point in the NFL offseason, what would you say is your biggest concern about the 2014 Packers?

For me, it’s the safety position. When Morgan Burnett is the best safety on the roster, there are issues. Yes, the draft is right around the corner, but you never know if a) the Packers will be in a position to draft a safety who can start right away or b) if whatever safety they draft will be any good.

But forget about your biggest concern for the time being. What do you see as potential concerns that few people are talking about?

Because those are probably the concerns that will come to fruition in 2014. With all the roster turnover and other unknowns from year-to-year in today’s NFL, it’s impossible to predict in March what an NFL team might be scrambling to try and fix in November.

At this time last year, we were all worried about the Packers not being big enough to stand toe-to-toe with physical teams like the 49ers or Seahawks. Then halfway through the season, we were worried about the Packers being too big to compete with teams like the 49ers and Seahawks.

I remember back before the 2010 season being worried about an undrafted rookie named Sam Shields serving as the Packers nickel cornerback. An undrafted rookie playing a key role on a team with Super Bowl aspirations. That’s insane!

Then Shields goes out and has a good season and picks off two passes in the NFC Championship to send the Packers to the Super Bowl.

I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Burnett is playing well once November comes around, a young safety is holding his own next to Burnett, and the Packers problems at safety are problems no more.

Teams can make grand plans to plug holes in March, and fans can do the same on blogs and social media, but once the season starts, all bets are off. A few key injuries or important players underperforming ruins the most thought-out plans.

My under-the-radar concern for the Packers is offensive tackle.

David Bakhtiari had a good rookie season, but what if he doesn’t take a step forward in 2014? Or what if the injury bug strikes him down in his second year like it did to Casey Hayward in his second season?

4

March

Cory’s Corner: Raji and Shields aren’t worth worrying over

B.J. Raji was not franchise or transition tagged by the Packers.

B.J. Raji was not franchise or transition tagged by the Packers.

There is no reason to worry about the Packers not tagging anyone with a franchise or transition tag.

I can totally understand not tagging B.J. Raji. Here’s a guy that scoffed at $8 million and if the Packers applied the franchise tag it would’ve cost them $9.654 million and $8.061 million if they used the transition tag. The Packers aren’t going to spend that kind of cash on a guy that appeared disinterested last year — which happened to also be a contract year.

Raji, while only 27, will likely be paid a king’s ransom but will never live up to his 2010 season in which he had 6½ sacks and gave us his own rendition of twerking in the NFC Championship at Chicago.

The same goes for Shields. The Packers’ secondary has been in shambles ever since Charles Woodson lost his ability to cover at a premium level. That unit has made subpar passers like Colin Kaepernick look like Peyton Manning and has put more pressure on the front seven to generate a pass rush.

Shields would be owed $11.834 million if he were franchised and $10.081 if the fourth-year cornerback were transition tagged. Another twist in this whole equation is that Shields’ agent is Drew Rosenhaus, the antichrist for front office pro teams. Rosenhaus is the guy that tells his clients to hold out while asking for more money and a long-term deal.

The 26-year-old Shields has blossomed into a reliable corner. I wouldn’t say he’s the shutdown corner the Packers covet and need for a division loaded with guys like Calvin Johnson, Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery but he is solid. ProFootballFocus.com has Shields as the 52nd best corner — 12 spots below teammate Micah Hyde.

The Packers have proven that they are unwilling to overpay just to keep a veteran. That was proven when the Packers let go of center Scott Wells in 2011 — which happened to be the same year he was named a Pro Bowler for the first time.

Many people see that the Packers have the sixth-most cap space with $34,197,930 and wonder why none of that is getting used. Ted Thompson knows that Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb must be taken care of after this season and he still may sign a defensive free agent.